Since the start of the school year, as I have been working in schools, I am hearing a theme emerge from teachers, “there is just not enough time to get everything done,” “I have no time for myself,” “all I do is work and just try to keep my head above water.”
Based on this feedback from educators, I have been rereading First Things First by Stephen Covey, Rodger Merrill and Rebecca Merrill. Stephen Covey is the author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Habit 3 is putting first things first.
In the chapter, First Things First, the authors suggest that our struggle with time is characterized in one of two ways. The clock is the common method for characterizing time. It is represented by our school calendar, class schedules, after school committee work, and extra-curricular activity commitments. A second method by which time is represented is our personal compass. The compass of a person can be represented by individual priorities, standards, values, and goals.
The clock represents what we do with our time or how we actually spend our time. The compass represents what we feel is significant, what we value, and what we believe is important.
The authors offer this advice: in order to live a more balanced life. We must learn to discern and make choices based on what are the most important and meaningful activities and experiences for our life. We have the right to opt out of activities and obligations. We must empower ourselves to “just say no” to issues that drain us of our energy and time---and that have little or no value to us as professionals.
A time management matrix is suggested in order for us to reflect on how we spend on our time.
What does all this mean?
How can this help educators get a handle on their time? Quadrant 1 represents events in our life that are both urgent and important. Quadrant 1 demands our time and draws upon our experience and skills to produce quality representation of our work. Quadrant 1 urgency can be lessened by applying the old adage “proper prior planning prevents poor performance.” If we handle Quadrant 1 tasks in a timely fashion, the urgency is reduced.
Quadrant 2 outlines activities in our lives that are important, but not urgent. This is the quadrant of “excellence.” We focus on professional learning, and on connecting with the resources and individuals around us in order to maximize our impact. Increasing our time in this quadrant strengthens our ability to act and achieve. Additionally, spending more time in Quadrant 2 reduces Quadrant 1…the urgent.
The elements in our lives that are urgent, but not important, fall into Quadrant III. Covey calls this the quadrant of “deception”. The pressure of the urgent creates an impression of importance, when in actuality, the events in this quadrant are of no importance at all. Quadrant III is typically driven by the needs and expectations of others, not by our own priorities.
Not urgent and unimportant items in our lives fall into Quadrant IV. This is the quadrant that drains much of our precious time and energy with no benefits in return. Covey calls Quadrant 4 our “escape” quadrant. Mind-numbing television or frivolous reading, social media, babbling in the teacher’s lounge, with no solution-focused goal, are examples. Don’t let Quadrant 4 be a vacuum of your precious resource of time.
So I’d like to suggest that you reflect back to your last week or even just yesterday…at school, at home, and in your community. Place the items that you spent time on in the quadrants. Be honest. Where are you spending most of your time? How can you manage your time differently to increase productivity, but also to maximize satisfaction? What steps can you take today, so you can move to a “First Things First” lifestyle?
Does this describe your work and your life at this moment?
Try these strategies to super-charge your observation routine. Commit, stay on track, and you'll head into 2017 with completed observations on all your teachers and observation goals met--maybe even exceeded!
#1 - Get tethered to your tablet!
It's that simple. Remember, you can conduct walkthroughs on your tablet or phone. Carry it with you--always. No excuses. You will be amazed at how frequently a convenient opportunity will arise to take 3 minutes--just 3 minutes--and complete an observation.
You've probably been observing teachers anyway, just NOT within your digital eWalkThrough® or classroom observation system. So carry your phone and get logged on! By the end of the week, your observation numbers will increase dramatically.
Get tethered to your tablet! Your stress level will go down. Teachers will receive the feedback they crave.
#2 - Trust your instincts!
It’s easy to avoid conducting observations because you think it’s important to have a set schedule, to go in at just the right time, and to attempt to observe all the look-fors on the tool face. Make an about-face!
You are an experienced instructional leader. The best walkthroughs are unplanned. Research indicates that it is very unlikely an observer will see each and every look-for during each and every observation.
So enjoy! Step in classrooms unannounced. Don’t second guess what you see. Open the door. Walk in. Mark your responses on your digital tool. Don’t debate and don’t hesitate. Hit ‘submit!’ It’s done!
The data you generate are invaluable. Teachers can reflect. Coaching and mentoring self-generates. The data inform the design of differentiated professional learning! That’s what you want. Support teachers. Give teachers exactly what they need. The answers are in the data. Trust your instincts.
#3 - Talk about the data!
That’s right! One of the best ways to super-charge your observation routine is to use the data. Talk about it! Talk to your teachers individually. Send reports to professional learning communities and grade levels teams. Share building data at faculty meetings. Provide powerful aggregate data analysis to the board of education, to advisory boards, to the parent organization in your school/district, and other stakeholders.
When you talk about the data, everyone naturally wants to know more. This motivates more observation. When you’re motivated, the process becomes exciting. The more you observe, the easier it is. Before you know it, observation is a habit. It’s a routine.
Talk about the data. The result? Instruction will improve. Student achievement will increase. Everybody wins!
Educators must continually be supported in the effort to deliver excellent teaching. Student success must remain the center of all our work in education. We know, and research confirms, that classroom observations are an excellent choice for supporting best practice instruction. As building and district leaders implement the digital eWalkThrough system, or another observation tool, for this process there are easy steps for success:
eWalkThrough data are collected and shared in real-time as instruction is being delivered. Teachers receive immediate feedback on which they can reflect to impact their practice. Data ensure that resources target specific instructional needs. Teachers are supported with exactly what they need in their individual professional learning.
Where are you in this process as an instructional leader? How do you know you are implementing the steps? I want to hear from YOU! Comment below with your take on the 3 Easy Steps.